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Arabica coffee acreage should be limited

Update: August, 04/2012 - 08:12


Farmers take care of Arabica coffee plants in the central highlands province of Kon Tum. Cultivation of the plants will be expanded to a maximum of 50,000ha nationwide. — VNA/VNS Photo Tran Le
HA NOI — Cultivation of Arabica coffee should be increased to a maximum of 50,000ha nationwide, roughly 10 per cent of the area used to grow all types coffee, said Le Ngoc Bau, director of the Central Highlands Agro-Forestry Science-Technology Institute, at a workshop in the capital last week.

"Arabica coffee should only be grown at 800m above the sea level," said Bau. He recommended Arabica cultivation in 17 districts, cities and towns in the provinces of Dien Bien and Son La (in the north), Quang Tri (in the central region), and Kon Tum and Da Lat (in the Central Highlands).

He said efforts to expand Arabica coffee cultivation in previous years had proven largely unsuccessful, and the current yield stood at 50,000 tonnes a year compared to over one million tonnes of the Robusta strain.

The total area under Arabica cultivation in the country now is between 32,000 and 35,000ha.

Nguyen Tri Ngoc, director of the Crop Production Department under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), expressed his support for Bau's recommendation.

"The coffee development plan should be based on market demand, soil conditions and climate," Ngoc said.

Another important factor, he said, was sustainable, efficient and large scale production.

History of the development of this variety in the Central Highlands shows that thousands of hectares of Arabica coffee were destroyed by rust diseases and as a result, they were replaced by the Robusta strain.

From 1999 to 2004, with support from the French Development Agency (AFD), Viet Nam intended to cultivate 40,000ha of Arabica coffee in the provinces of Son La, Lai Chau and Yen Bai (in the north) and Thanh Hoa and Nghe An (in the central region). However, only 13,604ha were ever planted, and they only produced a 40.76 per cent yield, with many of the plants withering and failing to bear fruit.

This failure was a good lesson for us, said Ngoc. We made a bad decision by trying to grow Arabica coffee on unsuitable land with weak technical management.

To ensure high quality Arabica coffee, Ngoc emphasised the importance of good planning.

Regarding the operation of existing coffee processing plants, Ngoc said MARD would review the capacity of these plants and make a final decision soon.

"We're determined to eliminate or stop investments into new plants if the existing ones can cope," Ngoc said.

Echoing Ngoc's idea, Bau said the capacities of some processing plants were already more than three times that of coffee production in the region.

"This is the main cause leading to unhealthy competition among coffee processors and low quality coffee," Bau said.

Ngoc said it was high time for Viet Nam to develop its own standards for coffee in general and Arabica in particular.

Arabica coffee output has shot up over the past three years by a staggering 40 per cent a year. Data from the General Department of Customs showed exports had risen from 24,000 tonnes in 2009 to 50,000 tonnes in 2011.

This period has also seen the Arabica price almost double, from $2,313 a tonne to $4,261, ensuring high profits for farmers. — VNS

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